award winning chef, Jake Kellie’s new beginnings

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Australian Young chef

written by Dominic Rolf

Late last year, a message from Burnt Ends owner and chef, Dave Pynt, pinged into Jake Kellie’s inbox. It was an offer to work at Pynt’s restaurant in Singapore. Kellie had met Pynt a week earlier on a four-day swing through Singapore the restaurant he’s taken to Number 14 in Asia (and Number 70 in the world). “I replied asking Dave what sort of job he was offering,” says Kellie, “And when he told me it was the head chef job, I was like, ‘Whoa, are you serious?’ I couldn’t believe the opportunity. I spoke to a few people whose opinion I respect, then jumped at it.”

Spotting and then grasping an opportunity is something that has underpinned Kellie’s rise as one of the country’s talented young chefs. From leaping into an apprenticeship at ARIA in Sydney as a 17-year old to stints at London’s two Michelin-starred The Ledbury and The Fat Duck, which was then top restaurant in the world, the Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the Year 2015 (he came second in 2014), Kellie’s CV is marked by a powerful urge to push himself.

“To be ready for the next step, whatever it is, you just have to have the passion and the will to succeed”

 

“To be ready for the next step, whatever it is, you just have to have the passion and the will to succeed,” says Kellie, who was also was nominated for The Age’s Good Food Young Chef of the Year 2015, “I really wanted to be good at what I did. Even when you’re waking up tired, when the clock starts ticking, you feel the pressure to perform and that’s why I keep doing it.”

“Coming to Burnt Ends means dealing with a new style of cooking but I’m really ambitious and am excited to do new food,” says Kellie, “And having someone like Dave beside me and mentoring me along the way made this the perfect next step.”

Beyond the big name restaurants, Kellie honed his craft at some of the best local restaurants in Melbourne, from being head chef at Fitzroy’s The Commoner and then at Estelle in Northcote. He was most recently the founding head chef at The Lakeside Mill in Pakenham. Each job has seen him refine and develop how he approaches the next stage of his career. “When I came back from London, for example, I was beginning to look for places I could create my own food,” he says, “The Commoner was an awesome space – not too big and not too small. It enabled me to get a gauge on things and how I could design food.”

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The Lakeside Mill took it one step further. “After going back to the pans at Estelle, the Lakeside Mill was an opportunity that fitted with my ethos – local produce, locally-driven, using local farms and a tasting menu based on ingredients in a 10km radius,” says Kellie, “Opening a restaurant from scratch was full on. We did some crazy things and it was a massive learning curve.”

But being afraid of change is not something that Kellie would ever entertain. “You can’t prepare yourself for the unknowns,” he says, “You just have to keep learning, and seek out places that have good management behind the front of house and the business itself.”

Kellie also believes that taking opportunities beyond the kitchen and then building from them has been key to his success. He’s been on Masterchef Australia, continues to stage to learn not only cooking techniques but also management styles and practices  “While I was doing all this outside stuff, I knew that I wanted to turn it into something,” he says, “There’s nothing worse than getting on a roll and then not evolving. I wanted to turn it into something.”

For Kellie, recognising and grasping that net big break is helped by having people around that you trust. “I have some close people who care for what I do such as Scott Pickett (at Estelle) and Alla Wolf-Tasker (at Lake House),” says Kellie, “They’ve been a massive influence on what I do. They’re the two people I can rely on and talk to about anything.”

And winning the Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the Year was another boost for Kellie’s ability to tap the best brains in the industry. “I wanted to win it because it’s such a prestigious award,” he says, “it challenges you, and helps to make you think about where you want to be. But for me, I think the networking that the program brings is really important. It opens you up to good cooks and good people who want to help you as much as they can.”

Now, with Dave Pynt by his side, he’s ready to soak up the knowledge of someone else who has carved his own successful niche. “I just want to learn and feed off what Dave knows,” he says, “But I’ve got the drive to succeed. It’s easy to say something, it’s harder to do it. But if you’ve got the will in you and you can do it, that’s what is the most important thing.”


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